Link between arts, business remains strong

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Based on a study by the Commerce Department and the National Endowment for the Arts, this month’s By the Numbers presentation explores the economic impact of the state’s creative industries.

It brought to mind a conference I attended years ago at General Electric’s Waukesha facility at which noted author and current TED talker Sir Ken Robinson spoke about the value of the arts to an economy. Fast forward to 2019, and it’s clear that while Wisconsin still has abundant creative industry assets needed for global leadership and competitiveness, it’s not at all clear whether arts education is getting enough respect from policymakers.

Anne Katz, director of Arts Wisconsin, is quick to note how creativity permeates every industry, not just the performing arts or organizations in creative industries like advertising, architectural services, and video production. Katz uses the manufacturing sector as an example, but it’s not the only one where creative thinking is vital in the 21st century economy. “In every business, and in every effort, we all have to come up with creative ideas,” she notes. “Everyone needs the skill sets that the arts teach.”

The recent national study isn’t the only research to show that kids in the arts education process do better in life or that an arts education helps people think outside the box. Katz references a 2008 Task Force by then Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and then State Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Burmaster. It was a year-long process that offered plenty of ammunition relative to the link between the arts and the economy.

That supply of ammunition hasn’t been depleted, which brings us to the recent state budget fracas. In the forthcoming state budget cycle, with a new governor and a legislature that is predisposed to, well, dispose of his proposals, both parties pledged increases in K-12 education spending. Gov. Tony Evers wanted more than twice as much ($1.2 billion) as the Republican-controlled Legislature ($500 million) over the next biennium. While the governor’s vetoes brought the GOP’s baseline higher, we don’t yet know how much of the increase will filter down to arts education. At least we know there will be some increase, and we were spared a long, drawn out fiscal drama in which we had to settle for existing levels of spending.

Katz would always welcome more investment, but given the arts’ influence on a variety of industries, her most unassailable point is about inclusivity. “We try not to use the term creative class,” she notes, “because creativity applies to everyone.”

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